The Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration — including 53 members from Academia Sinica — is to receive the Breakthrough Prize in Fundamental Physics in recognition of its achievement of making the first image of a black hole in the galaxy Messier 87, the Breakthrough Prize Foundation has announced.
Academia Sinica’s Institute of Astronomy and Astrophysics is a stakeholder institute in the collaboration and manages three of the sensitive radio telescopes that are used in the global project.
The institute said that of the 347 prize recipients, the 53 Academia Sinica members made up 15 percent of the winners, a number that highlights Taiwan’s important role in the collaboration.
The collaboration in April unveiled the first direct visual evidence of a supermassive black hole and its shadow.
The foundation gave the award as a group, as the images were synchronized by atomic clocks and data from eight separate sensitive radio telescopes and then flown to the Max Planck Institute for Radio Astronomy in Bonn, Germany, and the Masschusetts Institute of Technology’s Haystack Observatory in Groton, Massachusetts, where the images were combined on two supercomputers.
The EHT observations used very-long-baseline interferometry to synchronize telescope facilities around the world and exploits the rotation of the planet to form one huge, Earth-sized telescope.
The image of the supermassive black hole at the center of the Messier 87 galaxy was obtained after painstakingly analyzing the data with novel algorithms and techniques. It reveals a bright ring marking the point where matter orbits the black hole, surrounding a dark region where light cannot escape the black hole’s gravitational pull.
The black hole shadow matched the expectations of Einstein’s theory of General Relativity.
Academia Sinica researcher Paul Ho (賀曾樸) said that radio astronomy and radio frequency interference were important fields of research when the institute was founded.
The institute focused on these fields of research with the intent of obtaining or manufacturing high-definition telescopes, Ho said.
“The developments were difficult, full of challenges, yet the chance of achieving a frontier science breakthrough is good. Now we have seen the unseeable. It is a wonderful reward for Taiwanese science” he added.
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